Jilly Gagnon’s debut novel #famous

#17DABash interview with the author and a chance to win a free signed copy of the book! 📝📚💕 comment on this post by Friday, 12/8/17 midnight Pacific time to be entered to win!

Jilly Gagnon’s debut YA novel #famous is a sweet modern day love story told from both Rachel’s and Kyle’s point of view. I was lucky enough to spend time with Jilly at a Writers weekend retreat in September and she is just as lovely in person as you would imagine from her writing. Below is our interview.

Q. Was there something that happened in your own life, or in the world that inspired you to write #famous?

A. I think a lot of readers might guess the most direct inspiration for the book: the #AlexFromTarget phenomenon. I found that whole thing fascinating — the idea that one day you could be a totally normal teenager, and the next, completely out of the blue, you’re everywhere. One thing that stuck out when I read stories about Alex’s overnight viral fame was how different his experience was than the girl who took the picture (who everyone seemed to treat like a footnote — he got a million followers and she got … nothing), or his girlfriend, who started receiving death threats almost immediately. Not because she’s done anything wrong, mind you; because she dated a boy at her high school that other girls suddenly thought was cute. Death threats. For me, tho use elements wound up being just as important to the story as the photo blowing up!

Q. This book is completely immersed in current day social media and pop culture. Do you think social media is a positive or negative force for teenagers? Was there a message about social media you were trying to convey to teenagers through your writing?

A. I don’t think social media is inherently good or bad, and it’s clearly not going anywhere, so teens and their grownups need to adapt. That said, I think it can be very dangerous. It’s so easy to forget that there are people on the other side of every tweet and instagram photo and Snapchat filter; we’re experiencing these things at this weird digital distance, and it removes a lot of humanity from the equation. I don’t consciously try to infuse messages into my books, but I hope readers will come away from this story a little more aware of how digital actions can have real-life consequences. Cruelty isn’t any less cruel when it’s doled out over the internet.

Q. Bullying is another important theme in this book. Do you have any advice for teens, parents, or educators in how to navigate both cyber bullying or real-life bullying?

A. I’m not a parent or an educator, and honestly, I could probably learn a lot from them about how to handle bullying in all its forms. My instinct is that, as adults, we need to model better behavior. Not just by not being bullies, but by shutting bullying down when we see it, actively. That’s a lot easier said than done — I’m not the only person who hates confrontation — but bullies get away with their behavior because we’re too uncomfortable to address it, or call it what I is. For teens, the best advice I have is actually tucked into the book, and it comes from a character many readers aren’t a huge fan of (Emma): when you’re facing bullying, whether it’s online or IRL, try to remember that it’s pretty much never about you. No matter how cruel and hurtful and personal it feels, bullying is about the person doing the bullying. It’s about them feeling insecure, or small, or scared, and trying to drag someone else down to that level. That doesn’t excuse their behavior, and that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but for me, it helps me not let it affect me so much.

Q. Both Kyle and Rachel care deeply about what their parents think which is not always the case in YA or real life. Did you draw on your own relationship with your parents for this and was it an intentional message you wanted to imparttoyour readers?

A. I’ve Always been very close with my family, so I am sure that’s seeping into the book on some level, though neither Kyle nor Rachel’s relationships with their parents were modeled on my own. I think the main reason I wanted their families to be an important part of their story is that for most teens, your parents are important. Neither Kyle nor Rachel’s families are perfect, but they really care about each other. To me that felt like a more honest version of what it’s like to be a teenager. Yes, your parents can sometimes feel like particularly clueless prison warden, but they love you. And you probably love them. And…I don’t know why we don’t see that in books more often, honestly!

Q. If they make a #famous movie, who do you envision starring in the lead roles?

A. This is always such a hard question for me — I’d honestly want them to be played by actors people hadn’t seen before, ideally actual teenagers (has anyone else noticed how half the “teens” you see on TV are pushing 30?)That said, I think Ariel Winter and Evan Hofer would be great as Rachel and Kyle. I’m always most interested in hearing how readers would cast the book, though.

Q. I noticed a nod to “Back to the Future in the theme of the prom. Were there other cultural references you wanted your readers to notice?

A. That’s so funny — I didn’t mean for that to be a reference (I don’t think I’ve seen that movie since I was five or six years old)!

I did very intentionally give Rachel a Legend of Zelda trash can–I’ve always been obsessed with that game, and luckily, since they keep putting out amazing new installments, it’s not totally dated (I hope)!

Q. What can readers look forward to next?

A. I’ve been working on a couple of new books that I’m super excited about, but for now I have to keep hush-hush about the details. I suppose that makes this a good time to throw my twitter handle out there — I’m @jillygagnon. As soon as I have news to share, readers will be able to find it there!

Please comment on this post to be entered in the raffle to win your signed copy of #famous from Jilly Gagnon! Raffle will end Friday 12/8/17 midnight pacific time.

American Writers Museum in Chicago

A visit to the American Writers Museum at 180 N Michigan Avenue in Chicago with a fellow writer is the source of renewed inspiration and energy for writing and reading.

The museum, which opened in May 2017, has a variety of exhibits including an entire room devoted to picture books with large displays of cover art and a library for families to enjoy reading time together.

A special exhibit dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder is captivating for anyone who has read the books, watched the TV show, or sees themselves as an explorer or pioneer. We were especially captivated by the panel about how Laura became the “eyes” for her older sister when Mary became blind from illness. This is likely the reason Laura became such a wonderful storyteller.

My friend and I were reminded of so many favorite books and authors from high school and college days, and were also surprised at how many more we need to explore.

Street art in Chicago

Walking in Andersonville this morning, I was lucky enough to see this beautiful tunnel of mosaics and murals.

Another reminder that “beauty is where you find it.” – Madonna’s Vogue Vogue by Madonna

It’s never too late

While visiting former colleagues last week, I saw this quote on the board in 7th grade. I’m a living example of this quote even though I’d never heard it before. Not that I wasn’t proud of my previous accomplishments, but the starting over part speaks loudly to me.

I’ve always been a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald since reading The Great Gatsby in high school. After that, I devoured his other novels and short story collections.

My novel is set in Minnesota (his birthplace) and the high school is named for him. The main character is even reading one of his books. 😊📚

Look for happiness

I love coffee. It’s magical.

Coffee is one of the things that makes me happy. This particular cup (yesterday with a good friend) would have been appreciated for the obvious reasons.

But the bubbles formed when milk, yes milk – never cream, was added let me know coffee loves me too. 💕

You can go home again

I was lucky 🍀💚🍀 enough to spend a decade at a great school with fabulous colleagues, the most supportive families, and children that filled my heart every single day.

I’ve been gone for 17 months but whenever I return to Chicago, a priority for me is reconnecting with the children who made getting up at 5:30 worthwhile. I may no longer remember all of their names, but I remember stories about each one – how hard they worked, how genuinely sweet and caring they were, and sometimes how challenging and challenged they were.

Yesterday (in my first 24 hours back in town) I visited school and was made to feel like a celebrity as a chorus of voices called my name. 💕💓 💕

Children who I knew from kindergarten and first grade are now eighth graders and beyond. I met kindergarteners yesterday that are the baby of a family I’ve known since before they were born. The magic of children never fails to impress and inspire me.

And in a perfect twist of fate, yesterday was the Scholastic Book Fair which is also something I treasure. Buying Matt De La Peña’s book and sharing it with the sweetest children in the world is a new memory for me to treasure.

Nature does not hurry

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu Words from an ancient Chinese writer and philosopher.

These two rocks were found during excavation for the garage we are building. The beauty and uniqueness of each have earned them a place on the shelf where I write. If you look closely at the heart, there are embedded fossils. Can you imagine how long this rock has been developing?

The other is a lovely piece with amethyst quartz. 💜💜 It’s also slightly heart-shaped depending upon the angle.

“Speak” #Metoo

“He stares at me without talking. He is not as tall as my memories, but still as loathsome.” – from “Speak”

The stories that are finally being told, some from several decades ago, are all different and yet somehow the same. A person in power or strength of some kind exerting that dominance over another. The victims are often young, unable to make their voice heard in the moment or maybe for years afterward.

In the past few days, a holier-than-thou Alabama judge and politician has been accused of multiple abuses of power, including by a fourteen year old girl. Am I surprised? No, because it seems to me the ones who put themselves on the moral high ground against women’s rights and gay rights usually have something to hide.

The list of celebrities is long. Again, I think “is this surprising?” Not really, because abuse of power is rampant and the legend of “the casting couch” is based on plenty of actual events.

This week I read “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson. An excellent book that is not only well written, but shares the feelings and physical, emotional, and intellectual response that all of those who are now bravely coming forward have been through.

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